Tallinn Music Week takes flight in spite of Covid-19

Martin Longley
Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The exciting Estonian jazz showcase packs in the local talent including emerging bass name Mingo Rajandi

Mingo Rajandi - Photo by Karl Erik Raid
Mingo Rajandi - Photo by Karl Erik Raid

All sonic forms are embraced during Tallinn Music Week, in Estonia, and this included a dedicated jazz stage on its closing night, taking over Fotografiska in the Telliskivi Creative City. This latter is a former factory/workshop zone, its spaces steadily colonised by bars, cafés, galleries and venues, illustrating how the alternative to gentrification is ‘alternative-isation’. Fotografiska is one of the main spaces used by the Jazzkaar festival, which was postponed from last April, and is now re-set for October.

Although acting as a music biz conference, teeming with delegates, TMW also manifests itself as a public festival, taking over multiple venues, mostly in this Telliskivi part of town. Even though the majority of acts only play for around 30 mins, in the showcase style, this is still an equally exciting event for the wandering, purely-punter music acolyte. Jazzkaar and the Estonian Jazz Union selected a full evening of artists on the Saturday, ranging from frothy cabaret to late night free improvisation.

The latter was represented by The Meat, a fresh threesome assembled by the leading Estonian pianist Kirke Karja. She met her playing partners in the digital realm, but they just knew for sure that they’d coalesce in the fleshly world. Karja was joined by Norwegian bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen and Finnish drummer Ilmari Heikinheimo, the three initially adopting a soft approach, sensitively probing. However, It wasn’t too long before they leapt towards intense activity, with scuttling sticks, lyrical piano flourishes and bass brutality threatening over on the Barry Guy side of the street.

Karja cultivated a massive glacial splintering, then ruminated under the piano lid, making a finger-stroked string interlude. A halting cascade of detailed events, with pointillist droplets always activated, and the bass gaining the height of a violin’s range. Cymbals were bashed with fists, shimmering into a morbid doomscape, as the pivotal longer piece made way for a shorter meditation. Eventually, even this closed up in dramatic fashion, with driven stabs and blows on the piano keys. The Meat represented the finer end of improvisatory unpredictability, flash-fried for their debut.

Speaking of firsts, the Estonian bassist and composer Mingo Rajandi has just released her debut album, fronting a quintet earlier in the evening. She led the band with an extremely controlled delivery, ably assisted by the singer Liisi Koikson, who makes a point of not quite retaining allegiance to one particular style. Rajandi’s last song, ‘Lilacs’ began with a burst of free extremity, soon marshalled towards a contrasting Brazilian direction, managing to compress abstraction and accessibility into the same composition.

Titoks were completely different, operating as a fiddle-guitar-bass gypsy jazz trio, although not necessarily playing all of the expected tunes within that established repertoire. They were exquisitely smooth, and enjoyably extrovert communicators, with a fine attention to sweetly singing details. Prior to that set, Pillikud were too sweet a dose, well-arranged, but with their three female singers geared too much towards a club-pleasing cabaret sound, even if they did use folk motifs to interesting effect, as two of them sometimes played violins. Their guitarist also jetted out a pair of incongruously frazzled rock solos, soiling the satin expanse significantly.

This showcase night couldn’t have been more varied, without straying too far from the jazz heartland, but it was set on an incremental line of improvement, culminating in the achievements of the last two bands on the bill.

The Jazzkaar festival will run between the 9 and 15 of October…

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